Sunday, April 20, 2014

Why Girls and People of Color are Less Likely to Choose Science

One summer, in the middle of college, I worked for a Parks Council project in Central Park in Manhattan, supervising 24 high school students on a jobs training program. I wrote about this experience in the context of a proposed jobs bill by Obama back in September 2011.

In 1983, I scored a summer job working for the Parks Council in New York City.  I was a "supervisor" of two team leaders and 24 high school students for a CETA jobs program. There were 20 African-American kids and 4 Latino/Latina kids; the team leaders were a Latino community college student and an African-American student from Howard University. I was the only white person, for the first time in my life.
Do you remember CETA? It was the Comprehensive Employment and Training Act, a federal program that offered people with low incomes, as well as the long-term unemployed, with jobs and job training programs in the public and non-profit centers.
I think because I was white, I got assigned to the tony southern end of Central Park. Some of the other New York City parks were not so nice, and they had longer commutes from my house. At lunchtime I could sit by myself, or with my boyfriend, and watch Dustin Hoffman eat his lunch with his friends. Yes, he would come to the park too. 

The animals had been removed from the Central Park Zoo by 1983.
Our headquarters were in the Central Park Zoo, which was mostly closed for renovation in 1982--a good thing since the original animal stalls were truly prison cells. There is a nice history of the zoo here. The only animals that I remember still being at the zoo were the sea lions. (Photo taken from here.)
The kids taught me slang--"I've got my main squeeze and my two side squeeze"--as well as why we couldn't rake leaves in certain areas (rats). I'm not sure what I taught them. . .
But one day we were on a field trip and one of the girls came up to me. She had just finished 10th grade and she was probably the most diligent worker in the group. Her mother was from Jamaica and worked as a nurse's aide.
"I was thinking," she said to me, "that maybe I could become an LPN [Licensed Practical Nurse].""Great!" I said. "That's a great idea!"
But in my heart, I thought, "Why be an LPN? You're smart enough to be an RN or a BSN. In fact, why not be a doctor? You're smart enough to be a doctor."
I didn't say that to her though.
Why didn't I say that to her? Well, probably partly because I was only 20. I couldn't even give myself career advice.But probably also because I wasn't trained to have Great Expectations from poor black kids.
I flashed back to this memory when I heard Neil DeGrasse Tyson address the question, "Why don't girls choose science?" It's worth--really worth--listening to his answer. [I couldn't figure out how to set this to start at 1:01:31, but that's where you want to start it.]

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Friday, April 18, 2014

Alaska History Lesson: The Good Friday Earthquake

I was looking for some recent news about earthquakes, and I found the most fascinating information about the 50th anniversary of the Good Friday Earthquake in Alaska. Sometimes the web is a wonderland.

If you have some time this weekend, I highly recommend a documentary, Though the Earth Be Moved, of the first 72 hours after the earthquake. I couldn't get it to embed, but here is the link.

Here is a photo tour of Alaska after the earthquake.

Here are photos from the USGS Photographic Library and lots of additional information here.

Here is a fact sheet on Enduring Legacies. (It turns out that this earthquake helped prove a lot of theories about subduction zones and plate tectonics.)

Many films are available from the Alaska Film Archives.

And many more links can be found here.

All of this was fascinating, but it makes me glad I live in a state that doesn't have a lot of threats of natural disasters.

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Thursday, April 17, 2014

First Step: Ann Arbor Open Is Allowed to Abandon the NWEA MAP Test

Ann Arbor Open parents got this letter today from Kit Flynn, Ann Arbor Open's principal:

Dear parents, 
AAPS Superintendent Dr. Swift, (in consultation with LeeAnn Dickinson-Kelly, Dawn Linden and me), has decided to forego any further administration of the NWEA MAP Test for Ann Arbor Open School. There is agreement that this particular measure is not the best fit for our program.
The balloons were not part of the letter
Kit Flynn sent out. They reflect my feelings.
I took the picture from this free clip art site:

The teachers at Ann Arbor Open are committed to preparing all of our students for any required assessments that are mandated by the district and the state. Quality instruction includes quality assessment as part of the learning process. Our goal is to inform students and parents on areas where students show growth or may need further support, and to inform teachers on the instructional needs of specific students. We believe that authentic learning of needed skills will result in student growth, and want to use assessments that we believe will contribute to their success.
The district assessment committee's charge is to examine current assessment practices, understand state requirements, clarify core values and bring forward proposals to inform and advise an amended Assessment Plan for 2014-15. They will begin meeting soon.
While the district assessment task force begins their work, we will also be considering how to best measure our students' growth. Ann Arbor Open staff will spend time reviewing possible assessments and methods for monitoring progress for our students, especially students who need additional support or are below grade level in key curricular areas.
The staff members of Ann Arbor Open are feeling very grateful today - grateful to our supportive parent community, and grateful to the leadership of Ann Arbor Public Schools for acknowledging our program's unique needs.


Kit Flynn

I hope this is the beginning of a trend. I think this decision means that right now the only Ann Arbor middle school giving the MAP test is Scarlett Middle School. However, all of the other elementary schools are still giving the test.

Also, the long-awaited Assessment Task Force is going to start meeting next week.So, in general--toast this small success, but recognize it for the baby step that it is, and let's keep working  toward more authentic assessment, and less testing.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Passover, Pedagogy, and Liberation

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(I know! I put that at the top! Radical, right? Initially, it was an accident, but the good kind. By the way, if you do try and subscribe by email, remember that you need to "verify" your subscription.)

What follows is a repost from April of 2011. While I am busy preparing for Passover (and since--fair play--I'll have a Good Friday post up on Friday) I thought I would repost this discussion of a major Passover theme--liberation--and why the Passover Seder is such a fantastic example of good educational practice.

So here it is.

Passover, and...

Pedagogy of the Oppressed

Several years ago, we asked friends and family coming to our house for the holiday to each focus on a particular section of the Passover Seder. Seder means "Order" in Hebrew, and at Passover, Jews tell the story of the Exodus from Egypt at a Seder, using a Haggadah, a book that means "Telling," and that has a certain order to it. One of the sections of the Haggadah is called Maggid, loosely translated as the Story. In other words, it's the narrative.

So, my friend brings this question about the Maggid section:
This is the Story part of the Haggadah, but there is no story here--at least, no story about the Exodus. Instead, there is a description of four kinds of children (wise, wicked, simple, and one who doesn't know how to ask)--and a suggestion as to how to answer their questions.
There are songs and activities.
There is a place where the youngest person at the table asks four questions about the Seder's symbols.
There are obscure references to historical occurrences that on the surface don't seem to have anything to do with the story of the Exodus from Egypt.

Why is there no story in the Story?
Is this really the Socratic Method? Depending on who you talk to, the Socratic Method means slightly different things, all involving questions and answers. Rick Garlikov describes the Socratic Method as "Teaching by Asking Instead of Telling." According to Wikipedia,
The Socratic method (also known as method of elenchusSocratic irony, orSocratic debate), named after the classical Greek philosopher Socrates, is a form of inquiry and debate between individuals with opposing viewpoints based on asking and answering questions to stimulate critical thinking and to illuminate ideas.[1]
No, this is not the Socratic method. But the Seder uses outstanding educational techniques--requiring interaction between members of the group; hands-on activities; thought-provoking questions; and even some performance (traditionally, the youngest person in the room masters and chants four questions). And the result? The seder is probably the most observed Jewish practice in the world.

*   *    *    *    *    *
Pedagogy of the Oppressed is the most well-known book of Paolo Freire, and it is a book that, I confess, I have not been able to read all the way through (dense!)--but the essence is this:
In the book Freire calls traditional pedagogy the "banking model" because it treats the student as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge, like a piggybank. However, he argues for pedagogy to treat the learner as a co-creator of knowledge. (Wikipedia)
[Note: Freire is referring to "traditional pedagogy" as the pedagogy common in Europe and the Americas in the 1800s and 1900s.]

Ultimately, the Haggadah is at least a thousand years old in one form or another, and the story of the Exodus from Egypt is even older. Since it is a story of slaves throwing off the shackles of slavery, so I will close with a few quotes from Paolo Freire's Pedagogy of the Oppressed:
"Looking at the past must only be a means of understanding more clearly what and who they are so that they can more wisely build the future."
"The greatest humanistic and historical task of the oppressed: to liberate themselves..."  
 "… Without a sense of identity, there can be no real struggle…" 
"No one is born fully-formed: it is through self-experience in the world that we become what we are."  
"Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other." 

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Smarter Balanced Pilot: How Will the Testing Be Given? Can You Get Out Of It?

Read Part I:
Smarter Balanced Test: Try It Out Before Your Kids Take It

Read Part II:
Smarter Balanced Comes to Ann Arbor a Year Early. Why?

Read Part III:
What is in the Smarter Balanced Test?

Part IV: How Will These Tests Be Given in the Ann Arbor Schools? What Are the Likely Impacts?

Reduced learning for freshmen, sophomores, and seniors

To begin with, each school in Ann Arbor has been given some latitude in how the tests will be administered. In some buildings, the principals may choose to shorten the other classes in a day, and clump the tests at one time (for all the juniors). In other buildings, the principals may choose to pull out the students only from their English and Math classes.

Either way, you end up interrupting the other classes. For example, in the case of math, where students may be a year ahead, at grade level, or a year behind, an Algebra 2 class may have sophomores, juniors, and even a few freshmen or seniors. So when you pull the juniors out of the math class for the pilot test, will the teacher continue to teach the other grades? If they teach them something substantive, the juniors lose out on the lesson and the teacher will likely need to repeat it. If they don't teach the other students something substantive, then it's likely a waste of time for the others. Either way, that is a lose-lose situation.

Another choice is to change the length of time for the class periods. In that case, every class would meet on a certain day (say, for 35 minutes instead of the usual class period). If that happens, then every class is shortened, and the other grades also have less time in school.

In the winter, when the schools gave the (mandatory) MEAP to juniors, my son (a freshman) had a couple of days off in school, and another day where the classes were half an hour long. Whatever you think of the testing itself for the juniors, that was definitely a waste of time for him.

Access to Computers

Probably the other largest area of concern has to do with access to computers. At the comprehensive high schools I think there are 350-400 students in the junior classes. In order to take the test, every junior needs a computer. This is between 10 and 15 classes worth of students. Can the schools even give every junior a test at the same time? Do they need to commandeer every mobile computer lab? Take over all the general purpose computer labs? During that week (just like during the NWEA MAP test, which will be given in the elementary and middle schools in May, again), other students won't be able to use those computers for research, powerpoints, web site creation, or computer programming.

Notification of Parents

Parents were notified immediately before spring break. A friend sent me the notice that Skyline parents got. Here is a copy of the letter. And here is a copy of the "Smarter Balanced" fact sheet.

I personally thought the letter was pretty reasonable. (I couldn't tell if it was only sent to parents of juniors or to all parents--it reads like it was sent to all parents.)

But one friend whose children are at Skyline had a slightly different reaction:

REALLY????? MORE testing for Juniors? And they make it sound like we've won a prize!
Dear Valued Skyline Families,
Skyline High School was chosen by the Michigan Department of Education to participate this spring in the pilot of the Smarter Balanced Assessment.  (Emphasis added.)

At Skyline, the principal (Cory McElmeel) writes:
For our school, students in 11th grade have been selected to take the pilot test in English Language Arts and Mathematics. The mathematics portion of the assessment for non-accommodated students will take place during 4th and 5th periods on Tuesday, April 15th and Wednesday, April 16th.  Students with accommodations will take the mathematics assessment during 1st and 2nd periods on those same days.  The English language Arts portion of the assessment for non-accommodated students will take place during 1st and 2nd periods on Tuesday, April 23rd and Thursday, April 25th and during Skytime on Wednesday, April 24th.  Students with accommodations will take the English Language Arts assessment during 4th and 5th periods on those same days.

So, the letter is not the problem--but you might think it's a problem that students will lose a couple of hours of school on four different days. And as I mentioned, that cannot help but affect students in the other grades. Or, as a second friend wrote me, 

Here’s my beef:  Juniors just had a bunch of testing in mid-March, which came the week before final exams. Now here were have another bunch of testing, coming just a few weeks before AP exams.

The Solution Is In Our Reach: Opting Out Is Easy

Now, the real reason I said I feel the letter is reasonable? Try this part of the letter: 

Participation is voluntary and confidential, and your child’s grades will not be affected by his or her participation. . . If you do not want your child to participate in the pilot or if you have any questions regarding your child’s participation, please contact me.

In other words--the district is making it very easy to opt out of this test. Just email the principal of the school your child is in, and say, "I do not want you to administer the Smarter Balanced test to my child."  

And by the way--the NWEA MAP test is coming soon to an elementary or middle school near you, and you can employ the "opt out" strategy for that test as well. It's not mandatory. 

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Monday, April 7, 2014

What is in the Smarter Balanced Pilot Test?

Read Part I:
Smarter Balanced Test: Try It Out Before Your Kids Take It

Read Part II:
Smarter Balanced Comes to Ann Arbor a Year Early. Why?

And here is Part III.

What is in the Smarter Balanced Pilot Test and How Will It Be Given?

The Smarter Balanced Test is a non-timed test (although there is a certain amount of time that they expect the test to take. It is given on a computer. The testing can be split up over several days. The test itself includes a variety of types of questions, including questions that are "drag and drop" (you drag objects into a location and "drop" them there); "click stick" (also known as click-stick-click-drop, and it requires less fine motor skills); multiple choice; and short answer questions. All of the answers, including the short answers, are graded by a computer. Smarter Balanced calls the computer program that delivers the test the "test delivery system." I'm not sure why I find that so humorous, but I do.

There are two parts to the Smarter Balanced Test. There is a "non-performance task" section--estimated to be two hours long for the English Language Arts section, and two hours long for the Math section. And there is a "performance task" section, which involves a half-hour classroom activity that is supposed to provide a "baseline" for a theme, and related to that there is an ELA section (estimated at two hours long) and a Math section (estimated at an hour and a half).

The idea of the performance-based task is that it allows testing of critical thinking and problem solving. The example I was given was that if you had a class task about teen driving restrictions, that there would be baseline information shared about those, and students would then be able to incorporate that information into their activities.

The classroom task itself is considered "non-secured," but at the same time, "Students may take notes during this time, but the notes must be collected before proceeding to the PT. Students may not use notes taken during the classroom activity for the PT." (Source.) Also, if students are absent the teachers are supposed to try to give the students who missed a similar experience.

The pilot tests are not "adaptive," they are "fixed." (In other words, they are the same for every student. Supposedly, the actual test will be made adaptive next year.)

Read lots more about the Smarter Balanced test here:

Classroom Task and Performance Task Administration Guidelines

Frequently Asked Questions for Spring 2014 Field Test

Here are the goals of the Smarter Balanced test, as taken from the Smarter Balanced Assessment web site:

  • Accurately describe both student achievement and growth of student learning as part of program evaluation and school, district, and state accountability systems; 
  • Provide valid, reliable, and fair measures of students’ progress toward, and attainment of the knowledge and skills required to be college- and career-ready; and 
  • Capitalize on the strengths of computer adaptive testing—efficient and precise measurement across the full range of achievement and quick turnaround of results. (emphases added)

Just a comment about that "valid, reliable, and fair measures" piece. In case it's not obvious, if you don't read well, you are not going to do well on the math test, even if you are a math whiz.

As for "efficient and precise measurement," given that computers will be assessing students' writing, I'm not sure how precise it will be, although it certainly will be efficient!

But enough about the test.
I'm more interested in the testing.

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Sunday, April 6, 2014

"Smarter Balanced" Comes to Ann Arbor a Year Early. Why?

A few weeks ago, a couple of teachers emailed me. Here's a sample email.

"If you haven't already heard, I thought I'd alert you that Pioneer (and some of the other comprehensive high schools) have added at the state's request about ten hours of additional testing - 4 1/2 in English and 4 1/2 in math. It is some sort of pilot of the Smarter Balanced test. This will happen in April, right before APs, for the junior class. The juniors will miss 5 English and 5 math classes in April! There is an "explanation" but it all seems really fishy to me. There was mention of the state paying us do do this, but then we were told that wasn't true. It all seems suspect to me and really a crime against our juniors who have already done the MME." (Emphases added.)
I started doing a little investigating,  and that's why I wrote, last week:

Smarter Balanced Test: Try It Out Before Your Kids Take It

(You can find the link to a sample test there.)

I also asked for some information from the school district, and I appreciate the time that Jeanice Swift, LeeAnn Dickinson-Kelly, Jane Landefeld and Merri Lynn Colligan spent explaining both the pilot test and the district's point of view to me. I think it's fair to say that the district's point of view is not the same as the parents' or teachers' or kids' point of view (at least not based on the emails I've gotten or seen posted on Facebook). That is at least partly because the district is beholden to the state in a way that the parents, teachers, and kids are not.

So, in fact--yes. All of the high schools will be piloting at least some portion of the Smarter Balanced test--with the exception of Community, which apparently did this pilot last year.  By ALL of the high schools, I mean: Pioneer, Skyline, Huron, Ann Arbor Tech, and Clemente. Huron will only test the English Language Arts (ELA) test, and the others will test both ELA and Math. The decision of which schools to test was made by the Smarter Balanced Consortium itself and not by the district.

The test window is from April 7th to May 16th for all of the schools (which really means it starts April 14th since the schools are closed this week), but Pioneer got an extension to June 6th. (I don't know why, but...) Each school has a fair amount of autonomy as to how the tests will be given. More about that later.

So why is this happening? 

The district got a Technical Readiness Infrastructure Grant. To receive it, the district needed to promise to meet nine criteria. (I think some other districts in the county also got this, but I don't know which ones. In the grant they refer to charter schools as "districts" as well.) I am hoping to get the district's grant itself, soon, but in the meantime, you can enjoy reading the RFP and the FAQ and all that other good stuff from the state Department of Education itself. One of the requirements is that at least 20% of district students "pilot" online assessments of various stripes--there are many more of those than even I was aware of!

Read the state's RFP. Here's a little excerpt:


The Technology Readiness Infrastructure Grant Program will fund the following

1. Developing and implementing collaborative purchasing arrangements for
statewide network services, and personal learning and assessment devices.
2. Establishing sustainable, cost effective collaborations of technology and data
related services to assist schools and districts to become “test ready.” 

3. Building the capacity of educators at ISDs, public school districts, and public
school academies to effectively plan and implement online assessments and
“Any Time, Any Place, Any Way, Any Pace” learning.
Update 4/7/2014: Just to give a balanced perspective here--even though I read the grant's purpose as being All About Testing, a friend who is a teacher in another district that has this same grant wrote me (after I posted this), that there are some very good things coming out of the technology infrastructure grants. 

She wrote, 
In my experience, it's not at all about extra testing. Our team is 100% responsible for implementation and we are using it to do teacher training on subjects like using gaming in classrooms and integrating byd (cell phones etc) into classrooms without access to computer labs. I'm using my time to do pilot programs on 20time which is very unschooling and open in philosophy, and a minecraft classroom.

And here are some reasons that the district thought applying for this grant, and doing this extra testing, would be a good idea. (And here, I'm trying to put forth the district's "best foot," so to speak.)

Smarter Balanced is going to replace the MEAP next year, and:

a. since the test will be given online, this gives the district a chance to test their systems and technology
b. allows teachers and administrators to get a much better idea of what the test is like (those "sample" tests you can take don't really do it)--this could allow them to prepare for professional development and prepare students as to what to expect
c. they get paid for it--not a huge amount, but $10/student in the district. Given the tightness of the budget, that is not insignificant. (Although it does also tell you how much staff time and effort these online assessments take. I think the district sees this as a mostly-break-even deal.)

Last, but not least, the district sees this as preparing for mandated, high-stakes testing.

There is more that I could say. There is more that I will say. (All week!)

But for right now, I think the key points to remember are:

a. It may be state mandated in the future, but it isn't mandated this year. This year, it is voluntary.

b. When it is mandated, it is really high stakes for the district, but not really for the students. (It won't be used, for example, for grade promotion.)

c. Current plans from the state are for the Smarter Balanced test to be given to 3d to 8th graders, and high school juniors.

d. Kudos to the district for making it clear that taking the test is voluntary, and making it easy for parents to opt their children out of these tests. You just have to send the principal an email or letter saying that is what you are doing.

Read more about the money flowing between the various companies for all this testing. But Michigan's school districts are so hungry for cash that they will comply for chump change.

Coming soon:
--What is in the pilot, and how is it being given in different schools?
--What does the school letter look like? How are parents and teachers reacting?
--Word choice: assessment vs. testing
--Will other kids/classes (9th/10th/12th; other subjects beside English and Math) lose out?
--If we didn't use tests, what other outcomes could we use?

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Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Brush With Fame: Brooklyn Parents Opting Out

Today, I had a brush with fame.

I know, you're thinking that it had something to do with President Obama's visit to Zingerman's. And it didn't--although both my son and our exchange student were trapped in Community High School during the Obama lockdown. [Recap: They didn't get to meet the President, though they did meet some secret service agents. Our exchange student almost missed getting to the Skyline Junior Varsity first tennis match--versus Canton. Skyline won. Go Skyline!]

Liz Rosenberg, Kemala Karmen, and
Dionne Grayman are the co-founders of Kemala is on the far right.
In any case, the brush with fame that I'm talking about has to do with the fact that our dear friend Kemala Karmen, one of the co-founders of, is extensively quoted by Diane Ravitch at an "Opt Out of Testing" rally.

And by extensively, I really mean that Ravitch's entire blog post is devoted to Kemala's remarks! I know, I know, Diane Ravitch publishes several posts a day--unlike me. Nonetheless, it's still pretty cool. states, in its "About Us" section of its website, "Democracy is something that public school parents must have more access to. That’s why we are creating this organization." I couldn't possibly agree more. That's why I write this blog.

Here is some of what Kemala has to say:
“Now we can add one more way in which Brooklyn is blazing a trail: the parents of Brooklyn, outraged by the hijacking of our childrens’ educations, outraged by the assault on our public schools and on our public school teachers, we parents of Brooklyn are taking a stand. Whether we live in Brownsville or Cobble Hill, Ft. Greene or Greenpoint, we are saying ENOUGH! Stop using the blunt instrument of the state ELA and math tests to rank and sort our children, our teachers, and our schools. . . 
“So now, we parents are invoking the only tool we have left. In growing numbers, we are refusing to let our children take these tests. No test score means no data. No data on which to base teacher evaluations. No data on which to justify school closings. No sensitive, personal data that follows our children from year to year, from school to school. . .  
This morning parents at our District 15 school stand together with parents at other Brooklyn schools to announce the explosive growth of test resistance in our borough, a movement that is gaining momentum elsewhere, too—in the city, and the state, and, really, anywhere in the country where parents see the joys of teaching and learning constrained, the spark of curiosity and creativity snuffed out. . . 
It may be April Fools Day, but these tests and, indeed, the whole edifice of corporate “education reform” built upon these tests is no joke. It is no laughing matter when millions are diverted away from our children’s classrooms and into the hands of for-profit companies. It fails to amuse when our class sizes become so large that even our best teachers are hard pressed to know each child. 

Kemala, I'm proud of you! Read the full text of Kemala's speech here.

[And for another post on assessment, you might enjoy "Should there be public ratings for airline pilots?"]

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Monday, March 31, 2014

Smarter Balanced Test: Try It Out Before Your Kids Take It

Wondering what Smarter Balanced is?

It sounds like margarine, right?

It's not. It's a test. It's the test that is supposed to replace the MEAP test (but be given in the spring, and on computers). And it's supposed to be "Common Core aligned." And it's going to be longer than the MEAP. [It's state-mandated. So whatever school district or charter school you are in, this test should be of interest to you.]

But hey, it's got a logo that looks like it belongs to a forestry group.

Read the web page here.

According to this fact sheet by Fair Test, "Two multi-state consortia — the Smarter Balanced Assessment Consortium (SBAC) and the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) — won federal grants to develop Common Core tests, which are due to be rolled out in 2014-15."

In Michigan, we will be using Smarter Balanced.
Here's a nice article on how the Smarter Balanced test is going to fund for-profit corporations. (OK, really--not so "nice." But it's worth paying attention to this!)

As Fair Test points out,
Proponents initially hyped new assessments that they said would measure – and help teachers promote – critical thinking. In fact, the exams will remain predominantly multiple choice. Heavy reliance on such items continues to promote rote teaching and learning. Assessments will generally include just one session of short performance tasks per subject. Some short-answer and “essay” questions will appear, just as on many current state tests. Common Core math items are often simple computation tasks buried in complex and sometimes confusing “word problems” (PARCC, 2012; SBAC, 2012). The prominent Gordon Commission of measurement and education experts concluded Common Core tests are currently “far from what is ultimately needed for either accountability or classroom instructional improvement purposes” (Gordon Commission, 2013).
Oh yeah, and also? It's a computer-based test which means it is going to hog up the school computers. I sure am glad I voted for that technology millage...

Curious about the test? You should be. Take a sample of the test here. [Just log in as a "guest."]

And then? Please share your observations about the test sample in the comments section.

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Thursday, March 27, 2014

Grab Bag: Open Conference Review, Same Sex Marriage

Open Conference Review

Last weekend, while I was at the County Clerk's office witnessing an historic event, the Open School Conference was happening at a lovely Lithuanian heritage camp, Camp Dainava, outside Manchester. So I didn't really know what happened there, except that one friend told me it was very interesting to hear about the progressive/open school in Boston, Mission Hill.

But yesterday I found out that Nancy Flanagan wrote the loveliest piece about the Open School Conference in Education Week! Titled, "What Professional Development Should Be," she writes, in part,

I was there to present on teacher leadership. I was prepared to share dramatic, even shocking information about the staggering gap between custom-tailored teaching practice and state and federal policy. I planned to tell them about teacher leadership "programs"--where "leaders" are selected and trained and funded, to do the bidding of organizations and promote policy initiatives. I wanted to talk about role-based leaders with defined duties, contrasted with a more organic kind of leadership--leadership that emerges from place and need. Which--it suddenly struck me--was present, in spades, in the room already. A principal who enthusiastically attends a conference planned entirely by her teachers, to learn with them? Teachers who won't let their internally-designed spring weekend together die, after three decades? Precious time set aside to talk about things that matter most in serving the 500 children in their collective care, as educators and parents? If that's not natural and authentic leadership, I don't know what is.
Read the entire article here. (You may have to register for Education Week, but you do get ten free articles a month for that.)

And another thing worth noting about the Open School Conference. Not only did Kit Flynn, Ann Arbor Open principal, attend, but so did the Ann Arbor schools superintendent, Jeanice Swift, and Dawn Linden, the Executive Director for Elementary Education. That may be the first time that has happened--but if not, it's certainly the first time in a long time! Thank you, Jeanice and Dawn, for showing up! I hope you enjoyed it as much as Nancy Flanagan did.

Same Sex Marriage Redux

I was disappointed--no, disappointed isn't the right word. I'm disappointed when I go to a party and none of the desserts are my favorites.

I was infuriated, dismayed, frustrated, and saddened by the Attorney General's decision to appeal Judge Friedman's ruling. To me, it's a waste of taxpayer money. I sent the Attorney General and the Governor this twitter message, but I guess it didn't make a difference.

Don't be mistaken, this ruling affects many children, parents, and teachers in the Ann Arbor schools, and in the various Washtenaw County school districts. Let the governor and attorney general know how you feel!

At one point, on Saturday, I watched the pastor of Ann Arbor's First Unitarian Universalist congregation (Rev. Gail Geisenhainer) perform a wedding ceremony on one side of me, and on the other side, the rabbi of the reform Jewish congregation Temple Beth Emeth (Rabbi Bob Levy) performed a wedding ceremony at the same time. It's worth noting that both couples who were getting married have children in local school districts.

Then yesterday I was thinking about a quote that is sometimes attributed to Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice." But it turns out that both he and Rabbi Jacob Kohn (who said something similar in 1940, during World War II), were basing their quotes on the quote of someone else, most likely Theodore Parker, who was a Unitarian minister and abolitionist. And Parker wrote:

Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right.* I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. 
Theodore Parker, 1857
*By "right," he didn't mean "right wing" but "morally right"
**Read the interesting history of this quote at Quote Investigator.

And that quote put me in mind of this photo that I took a couple of years ago.

Photo by Ruth Kraut. Creative Commons license.

May that arc speedily bend toward justice!

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Saturday, March 22, 2014

Love, Michigan (=)

It's a New Day in Michigan. Read Judge Bernard Friedman's excellent ruling here.

My friends' daughter holds her moms' wedding rings
during their ceremony today (Saturday, 3/22/2014). The hands, of course,
are every Michigander's symbol of Michigan.

IV. Conclusion 
In attempting to define this case as a challenge to “the will of the people,” Tr. 2/25/14 p. 40, state defendants lost sight of what this case is truly about: people. No court record of this proceeding could ever fully convey the personal sacrifice of these two plaintiffs who seek to ensure that the state may no longer impair the rights of their children and the thousands of others now being raised by same-sex couples. It is the Court’s fervent hope that these children will grow up “to understand the integrity and closeness of their own family and its concord with other families in their community and in their daily lives.” Windsor, 133 S. Ct. at 2694. Today’s decision is a step in that direction, and affirms the enduring principle that regardless of whoever finds favor in the eyes of the most recent majority, the guarantee of equal protection must prevail.

IT IS HEREBY DECLARED that Article I, § 25 of the Michigan Constitution and its
implementing statutes are unconstitutional because they violate the Equal Protection Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution.

Today, at the Washtenaw County Clerk's Office, Clerk Lawrence Kestenbaum had posted this sign: 

I especially appreciated this part of Judge Friedman's ruling:

Taking the state defendants’ position to its logical conclusion, the empirical evidence at hand should require that only rich, educated, suburban-dwelling, married Asians may marry, to the exclusion of all other heterosexual couples. Obviously the state has not adopted this policy and with good reason. The absurdity of such a requirement is self-evident. Optimal academic outcomes for children cannot logically dictate which groups may marry. 


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Thursday, March 20, 2014

The Myth of Sisyphus, and the Myth of the EAA, with Kudos to the Ann Arbor School Board

I've been thinking lately about the Myth of Sisyphus. Sisyphus, you may recall, is condemned to eternally push a stone up a hill, even while the stone rolls down the hill. I've been thinking about the myth of Sisyphus in regard to an endless succession (in that sense, not a single boulder, but rather a rock fall) of terrible education-related legislation proposed by the state legislature. Those of us working against bad legislation seem to be constantly fighting a losing battle.

Drawing by Ruth Kraut. 2014. Creative Commons license.

That losing battle was in full view this week, with education advocates working hard to defeat the bill expanding the Education Achievement Authority. Today, those efforts failed. On Facebook, Steve Norton of Michigan Parents for Schools posted this picture of the vote in the House: 

Photo (or screen shot?) of the House TV screen showing the EAA vote.

There were 56 votes to pass the--a bare majority. Many thanks to most of our local representatives for voting No--that includes Driskell, Irwin, Rutledge and Zemke. Democrats who voted Yes were Olumba and Santana. According to Gongwer, five Republicans voted No – Rep. Jon Bumstead of Newaygo, Rep. Ben Glardon of Owosso, Rep. Peter Pettalia of Presque Isle, Rep. Phil Potvin of Cadillac and Rep. Pat Somerville of New Boston. (If you happen to live near them, thank them!)

But ultimately, I'm more than hopeful that the story of Sisyphus is not the story of the EAA. I believe that the myth of the EAA as a productive school environment will be exposed. The myth of what the EAA does will be shown to be as fraudulent as the Wizard in the Wizard of Oz. Behind the green curtain. . . if there ever is actual transparency. . . we will see the EAA schools are shadows of real schools, where intellectual inquiry and passion exist. 

The EAA, and many other terrible pieces of legislation, cannot really stand the light of day. The fact that public observers didn't get to read the bill in its latest form before it was voted on is simply more proof of that.

Drawing by Ruth Kraut. 2014. Creative Commons license.

The real story will not be a myth. Eventually, I really believe that the EAA will be defeated by the power of people. Sisyphus tried to roll that boulder up that hill all by himself. That's something that we don't have to do. 

We. The. People. Have. Each. Other.

Here is part of what Rep. Ellen Cogen Lipton said on the floor today (she's the representative who got a lot of the FOIA'd documents about the EAA that you can read here):
Please know...that I know...those who will continue to fight against corporate education DE-FORM know...and most importantly that the children trapped in the EAA know....just how well we fought, and will continue to fight the EAA. They can pass the bill over our objections and ignoring the facts, but we know it is a failure in every way. Thank you to every Education Warrior, the thousands of you across the state. Please know...the fight begins anew....justice and truth WILL prevail.

And that's why I was so pleasantly surprised to see that the Ann Arbor Public Schools board, last night (March 19, 2014) voted to ask Eastern Michigan University to no longer authorize the EAA! The EAA needs an "authorizer" to operate.

It's an excellent resolution, passed unanimously. Read the full resolution here.

To cut to the chase, 

That the Ann Arbor Public Schools Board of Education
A. Urges the Eastern Michigan University Board of Regents:
 1. To discontinue its affiliation and partnership with the EAA;  2. To work in concert with local public school districts in opposing efforts to destabilize, defund and deconstruct community-based and -governed traditional public education;  3. Go on record as opposing the State’s efforts to rid communities of the opportunity to participate in and govern their local schools; and  4. Build, foster and expand opportunities to work more collaboratively with student teacher placement and similar efforts with traditional public school systems, including the Ann Arbor Public Schools. 
B. Urges State lawmakers to oppose HB 4369 which would expand the destructive model of EAA to a wider arena.

Well done, Ann Arbor School Board! Since I know sometimes I (and many others) are critical of what the school board does, when they do something we like we should also let them know. Send a quick note to the Board of Education at:

Monday, March 17, 2014

Ann Arbor Schools: Budget Meetings for This Year and Next

2013-2014 Budget Needs Mid-Year Revisions

For details, you can see Amy Biolchini's article.

But here is the key point: as a result of students choosing charters, private schools, or the WISD consortium, the Ann Arbor schools were short 200 students compared to what was budgeted.

The important meeting is Wednesday, March 19th. From the article:

The budget adjustment will be a part of budget planning discussions the school board is set to begin Wednesday in a 5 p.m. study session at Skyline High School.
Immediately following the study session will be the board’s regular business meeting, which is set to start at 7 p.m. Wednesday.
The meeting is a make-up session for the March 12 regular meeting that was canceled due to inclement weather.

2014-2015 Budget Planning

AAPS will be hosting a round of budget forums to discuss the 2014-15 AAPS budget. 

All forums are scheduled from 6:30 – 8pm

Tuesday, March 25, 6:30 p.m. at Slauson Middle School 

Thursday, March 27, 6:30 p.m. at Scarlett Middle School 

Monday, March 31, 6:30 p.m. at Clague Middle School

Tuesday, April 1, 6:30 p.m. at Forsythe Middle School 

Thursday, April 3, 6:30 p.m. at Tappan Middle School

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Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Is EAA Pressure Starting to Get to EMU?

I hope so!

Forum Tomorrow at EMU: Wednesday, March 12, 11 a.m.

On Wednesday, March 12, from 11 a.m. to noon in the Student Center Auditorium, the Office of the Provost will host a forum on the Educational Achievement Authority (EAA). The forum’s participants will include EAA Chancellor John Covington as well as students, staff, faculty and parents from the district. The format of the forum includes a presentation by the EAA participants about the EAA’s mission, activities and results. That will be followed by a Q&A session to support the audience’s questions. The forum will be taped for those who can not attend. Public parking is available in the Student Center parking lots off Oakwood Street and Huron River Drive.

(h/t: HSM)

EAA Board Meeting Thursday, March 13th, 4 p.m. in Detroit

This meeting will be held in the Frank Hayden Community Room, #236, on the downtown campus of Wayne County Community College (1001 West Fort Street, Detroit.)

Eclectablog notes:

After canceling their February meeting, the EAA Board of Directors is meeting for the first time since early December. Apparently there hasn’t been anything of significance happening with their school district since then that warranted them meetings. The Board, which started out with 11 members, is down to six members. In fact, three of the existing members’ terms have actually expired:
  • Mark Murray’s 1 year term expired on August 11, 2012
  • William Pickard’s 2 year term expired on August 11, 2013
  • Roy Roberts’ 2 year term expired on August 11, 2013
This meeting is open to the public and the announcement for it can be found HERE.On the agenda is the expansion of the EAA by adding a new high school near Phoenix Elementary in the southwest part of Detroit.

And by the way, if you are interested in going to the protest, that will start at 3:30. You can RSVP here--or just show up on Thursday.

Sign A Petition?

Also, if you are interested, there is a petition to Governor Snyder to shut down the EAA because it is a "failed experiment."

Sign here.

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